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Forgiveness

October 19, 2011

Please continue and/or initiate conversations pertaining to Forgiveness here. Our initial wave of discussion on this topic may be found in the comments appended to the ‘Welcome’ post above.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew Clemente permalink
    October 21, 2011 12:40 am

    On Forgiveness and Narrative (Part II)

    This post will be in part a response to Tony’s thoughtful post (which appears under the “uncategorized section” of the blog) and in part a continuation of my previous post (also located under “uncategorized”).

    First, Tony:

    In your commentary on my post, you ask:

    “…in really terrible situations, is there a kind of “low” forgiveness, or a bare minimum forgiveness? Or, said another way, are there bare minimum conditions in which forgiveness stops being impossible?”

    In my mind, there is a subtle disparity between these two questions and that disparity makes all the difference. To answer the first (which I believe means to ask whether or not there are degrees of forgiveness) I would say: no, there is no such thing as “low” forgiveness and “high” forgiveness just as there is no such thing as “low” death and “high” death. If I were to ask you if William Shakespeare is dead, you wouldn’t respond by saying, “yes, he has been high dead for some time now.” If a man is dead, he is dead. There are no degrees. Similarly, if I were to ask you if you forgive me for some wrong that I have committed against you, it would make no sense to say, “well, I partially forgive but I do not forgive you all the way.” What would partial forgiveness mean? Would it mean that 20 percent of the time I am forgiven and 80 percent I am not? No, partial forgiveness (or to use your term “low” forgiveness) does not exist. Either I am forgiven or I am not. It must be all or nothing.

    To answer your second inquiry (which I believe means to ask: under what circumstances can forgiveness take place?) I would reiterate my previous definition of what constitutes human forgiveness. Remember, as a flawed being I cannot offer perfect forgiveness (ie forgetfulness). At very most, I am capable of recognizing my own need to be forgiven and, in doing so, I will see myself in the other. This, as I have already asserted, will have both a humanizing and a healing effect. Thus, the bare minimum condition under which forgiveness is possible occurs the moment that I recognize my own transgressions as transgressions, I see the other as myself and I see his sins as my own. I highly doubt that anything short of this type of humility (as opposed to the self-righteousness that would cause me to say, “I would never do something as awful as you have done to me and thus I cannot forgive you”) can lead man to forgive his adversary.

    Now, to add an interesting twist to my original post:

    I recently sat down with a former-professor of mine and the subject of forgiveness was discussed. He took issue with my definition of perfect forgiveness because he asserted that it has eschatological implications. If at the moment of forgiveness God forgets entirely our sinful acts, he asked, then what is to become of our own personal memories after the end of time? Will we not remember the deeds (and yes, the misdeeds) that define our lives simply because God has forgotten them (and thus they have lost existence)? Am I really me if I do not remember the acts that made me who I was?

    This question, I must admit, has caused me a great deal of inner strife and I continue to grapple with it. Part of me sympathizes with the notion that my actions (right or wrong) define who I am and to lose them entirely would be to lose myself. Another part of me, however, wants to defend my previously stated position that, “…a forgiven man is a new man. He is not the man of his past transgressions. His past transgressions are forgotten and both he and the forgiver (ie God) now share a relationship that is unhampered by their past.” Perhaps after the end of time I am no longer myself precisely because I am no longer my sins. Said differently, perhaps I am no longer myself because my sins no longer define me. Perhaps I am not me but a new me, a better me, a more perfect me.

    As far as this conversation on eschatology goes, I would love to hear some other opinions. Or if no one else wants to comment, I guess I will just have to wait and see…

    • -timo- permalink
      October 28, 2011 4:01 am

      This post has already got multiple replies but none of them grasps directly the issue of being forgiven in a theological sense (hayyim points to this but does not elaborate). It appears to me that there are two levels of discussion that somehow are not quite well communicating with one another — the theologically based conception of being forgiven must be approached from an angle that is quite different from that of reciprocal human relationship. Ultimately, we are talking about the difference between salvation and moral conduct, and only the latter would be of philosophical interest (– now, to be sure, I am not saying that either of these should somehow be suppressed in this discussion).

      You say that “partial forgiveness – – does not exist. Either I am forgiven or I am not. It must be all or nothing.” I see this growing from a very deep theological understanding which, perhaps, thinks more in terms of perfections than those of practical philosophy. For sure, the concept of grace is exactly this: I am totally forgiven as I am, indeed with my inclinations, wrongdoings, and all the deeds that “miss the mark”. As seen from the God’s point of view, I am very much accepted exactly as I am (although my status has for long been “non posse non peccare”), and there cannot be any partiality in this.

      (A sidenote: I, however, find hayyim’s suggestion that God would “forget” and that this would thus constitute a “higher” form of forgiveness not quite convincing — isn’t it the case (at least in Abrahamic traditions) that God “does intentionally ‘not see’ our condition although well knowing our status” and this is the divine pardon, forgiveness, grace that overwhelms and covers the sin in all its forms? To just simply “forget” seems to me lacking the ultimate essence of divine pardon: that it is to be conceived as a gift that expects nothing in return, i.e., to maintain that total forgiveness is possible even if everything is still very much on table (but now just without any relevance whatsoever).)

      The human position is difficultly approacable. This is the reason why Paul Ricoeur titles his 60-page “epilogue” to Memory, History, Forgetting as “Difficult forgiveness.” Since the memory has a role to play in here as well (because there is nothing to be forgiven if everything has already been forgot), Ricoeur asks that should we perhaps take forgiveness as “happy forgetting”? He seems to suggest that the human forgiveness would need some kind of partial amputation of memory and history — a view to which he is not willing to commit himself. Still, Ricoeur does not say that forgiveness is impossible, only difficult (both to grasp intellectually and to exercise). There is an “ultimate incognito of forgiveness,” which results from “the reserve of forgetting” that, in turn, is as strong as “the forgetting through effacement.”

      So, is it / can it really be “all or nothing”? I would propose that the whole notion of forgiveness is philosophically pertinent as a human problem. But what is the “phenomenology” of it? Can it be taken as a Gestalt applied in an appropriate situation — that if its gone, it stays gone? Personally, I wouldn’t know how to find the initial and/or defining moment that would open a view to it as this kind of phenomenon. Using Ricoeur’s lead, it appears also that there is something that “resists” getting deeper into it in the first place. Still, I would be very cautious in labeling / psychologizing forgiveness merely as “letting be” that arises from our own incapability to confront ourselves as non-omnipotent.

      However, isn’t there some truth also in this? That in forgiveness the transgression is somehow only “blurred” but not totally taken away from the past? That this “blurring” lets us still access what lies beneath when there is, say, a family fight? And this accessibility is the reason one still throws “the old stuff” to other’s face when the dispute was about something quite else — even though this “old thing” was forgiven, well in the past and the life together had had many happy moments in between? Furthermore, if it would be the case that forgiveness is a “all or nothing” -game to the very end, can there be genuine human forgiveness? What would that be like?

      • Matthew Clemente permalink
        October 28, 2011 9:25 pm

        Timo,

        You have raised a number of interesting points here. Allow me some time to grapple with them and I will get back to you.

  2. Matthew Clemente permalink
    October 21, 2011 3:54 am

    PS If you have 2 minutes, I would highly recommend that you watch this short youtube video that I stumbled across the other day. In it, Robert Downey Jr. speaks directly of the type of “narrative of forgiveness” that I have been discussing. Notice that he asks the Hollywood community to forgive Mel Gibson not because it is “the right thing to do” but because they are all in need of forgiveness: “I humbly ask that you join me—unless you are completely without sin… in forgiving my friend his trespasses, offering him the same clean slate you have me and allowing him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame…”

    Downey Jr. undoubtedly sees himself in Gibson, his flaws in Gibson’s flaws and his personal struggles in Gibson’s struggles. Thus he is willing to put himself out there and advocate for Gibson’s reconciliation. He also speaks of the humility that goes along with recognizing one’s own misdeeds.

    Enjoy:

  3. October 22, 2011 2:29 am

    From Chris Yates:
    Matthew, and all:
    Thanks for sharing that clip – you’re right, it’s fascinating and remarkable. It’s interesting that the appeal for ‘forgiveness’ comes off as almost humorous, as if the audience has to agree to enter into a moral framework that they aren’t entirely at home in. Right? No doubt the film industry people think of themselves as a distinct community, perhaps culture, and they may be right. And no doubt the films they bring to us are laced with manifold ‘narratives’ that can’t help but assume something like a moral universe. So it’s an interesting example to bring into our larger discussions. But here’s my question – especially for any UNDERGRADUATES who might be involved here: Does a narrative appeal for forgiveness, or even a cinematic study in forgiveness, need to happen from within a moral framework, even a rudimentary one? If it does, then what makes a moral framework? The film industry appears to chide GIbson for his violent, prejudicial behavior (hence, he can’t get work), as if to entertain the assumption that some actions/viewpoints are just ‘wrong.’ But I suspect the very same people would, on another day, side with the relativistic view that says “I can’t decide someone else’s morals.” Sean Penn is the kind of actor, for example, who would dig the Exchanging Narratives project here, but I imagine he’s also the kind of person who would say something like: “There are no moral absolutes.” So, this is why the appeal for forgiveness (though wonderful) seems almost ironic to me. Can you ask a group to participate in a narrative of forgiveness when they (arguably) lack a coherent moral framework? How can we confess/forgive when, at the same time, we say: ‘you should believe whatever is good for you’? Help me out here.

  4. Tony Anderson permalink
    October 23, 2011 8:31 pm

    Chris: Why do you think that Hollywood types are moral relativists? Or in what sense are they?

    Matthew:

    You’re probably right that I shouldn’t have used the word “forgiveness” in my previous post. I was thinking of a situation where someone is so blinded by anger that all he or she cares about is getting revenge. What could turn such a person away from the pursuit of vengeance? It was this mere turning away that I was trying to refer to with the term “low” forgiveness. Is it necessary to forgive completely? Or can one remain angry — even full of hate — and still hold back from getting revenge?

    I think this is an important question if we are talking about nations at war. If two enemies have been fighting – each side killing the people their enemies love most – for years or even decades, it might just be too hard for them to hear that they need to forgive their enemies, that they need to see themselves in their enemies. That degree of psychological courage just might not be possible for most people in the midst of war. Even worse, what if we want to start making peace with our own enemies after many years of hurting them? Should we tell them to realize that they are in need of forgiveness just as much as we are? This way of asking for forgiveness seems unlikely to work.

    So my question, to put it differently, is this: what might work? Could we change our narrative, the way we justify our past and present actions, in such a way that it becomes easier for our enemies to turn away from vengeance? If so, this could be like the first step of a first step toward peace: it would give our enemies a chance to break the cycle of violence, even if we cannot. And, conversely, are there some narratives that, if we tell them, will enrage our enemies so much that they will be unable (God notwithstanding) to turn away from vengeance? Consider, e.g. the case of an unrepentant Nazi; in this case it has been difficult if not impossible for people to forego vengeance. And even for those few who have the courage to give up revenge, it seems as though real forgiveness might not be suitable. Is it the objective harm done that makes forgiveness impossible? Or is it the narrative? It seems to be the narrative.

    What makes a narrative so offensive that it is practically impossible for enemies even to forego vengeance? Is there a simple answer? Or are there many ways to cross that line?

  5. October 24, 2011 12:47 am

    Tony,
    I ‘suspect’ many Hollywood celebrities and filmmakers of an a la carte approach to participating in moral narratives and positions (cinematic and practical) – but this, I admit, is a general impression and not a ‘justified true belief.’ It’s my off the cuff, unscientific view. Obviously there are exceptions. But my concern was to try and ascertain what’s going on in the ironic laughter that accompanies a call for ‘forgiveness.’ And my impression, again, was that this is indicative of a kind of fragmented moral economy, if I can put it that way. I just think it’s a phenomenon that calls for some reflection. The celebrities the media encourages us to pay attention to sometimes ‘do’ take moral positions – and good for that. I’m just a little hard-pressed to think of one that would actually be unpopular, and thus something of a sacrifice to maintain. It’s one thing to chide Gibson for his sins (deserved, it would seem), but it would be another thing if someone like a Scorcese (bless him) publicly denounced the advertising agenda attached to feature films. A call for ‘forgiveness’ comes from (and calls to) a context, but if that context lacks critical self-examination then there’s a risk that ‘forgiveness’ becomes a superficial gesture. That’s my hunch, and I’d love to be corrected on it. Should we care about the ‘horizon’ from which a call for ‘forgiveness’ issues, or should we nevertheless embrace such a call as a resilient, promising thing, regardless of its milieu (alleged or otherwise)?
    chris yates

  6. hayyim (kevin) permalink
    October 27, 2011 3:11 am

    a few thoughts.

    1. so far we have remained within the opposition: forgive or forget. forgetting being the supposed “higher” form of forgiveness that eludes humans and would be something divine. forgiving being a lesser form in which i cannot forget but somehow release the other from my moral grasp.

    i wanted to add that in hasidic teachings a third option is discussed: transformation. this is when the individual effects an absolute change in him/herself such that his or her former transgressions are not simply “forgiven” but are actually regarded as merits. The moral tenor of the transgression changes insofar as the transgressor is an utterly different person with respect to it. here it is not a matter of forgiving sin which remains sin – remembered or forgotten – but altering the character of the sin itself by means of a self alteration.

    However, this is something that ultimately concern’s one’s own sense of integrity. or, at the most, gods.

    2. i think that public discourse on forgiveness, particularly at the macro/political scale is utterly vapid and only creates more opportunities for conflict when expectations in this regard are not met. Eg. the conflict between Israel and Turkey. Turkey insists on Israel’s request for forgiveness over the barge incident, while israel refuses because it feels it was acting within the legitimate framework of international law. So now in addition to the original conflict we have a conflict about forgiveness. I think a much stronger and more important gesture is expressed in Israel’s immediate offer of assistance after the recent earthquake.

    we express our truest being by how we live, not by what we say. to ask or offer forgiveness doesnt say very much, inviting the other into our home or going out of our way for the other – either as a gesture of remission or as a gesture of regret – this is meaningful because it enacts what we would WANT to have been true in the past of our conflict even if we cannot change that past.

    I think that the largest problem with western philosophical ethics is that it has largely been concerned with attitudes prior to and separated from actions when, in fact, it is actions that produce attitudes. what must be done should always be the first question. then and only then what i may think about it or about myself, or you, having done it or doing it.

    this is the primary insight, in my view, of Jewish religion (at least ideally). “love your neighbor as yourself” is not interpreted affectively but pragmatically, as “DO unto others as you would have them DO unto you” – perhaps the positive affectivity will come, perhaps it wont. but either way, by putting deed/responsibility before its thematic value at least i am creating an environment in which strife is less likely to erupt.

  7. hayyim (kevin) permalink
    October 27, 2011 12:37 pm

    incidentally, regarding the question of “hollywood forgiveness” I think that the reason robert downey jr.’s appeal rings so false and ridiculous is the same reason gibson’s own apology rang as such. He never made it clear that his “regret” was anything but a self-serving means of gaining access again to work, prestige etc. That is not an apology. Had he begun taking an active role in jewish-christian relations akin to what is being done here at BC by professor bernauer, for example, or engaged in some other significant gesture I would have taken what he said a lot more seriously. Ultimately, in my view, you have to put your money (resources in the broad sense, time resources included) where your mouth is, or your lips are simply deceitful.

    eg. pope john paul the 2nd didn’t simply apologize for the church’s past. he actually changed the wording and, therefore, the implicit doctrine underlying that wording, of key liturgical texts (incidentally, mel gibson’s family – so I have heard – is part of a group that rejects those changes). That is meaningful

  8. Matthew Clemente permalink
    October 28, 2011 3:18 am

    On Forgiveness and Narrative (Part III)

    I ought to begin by thanking those who posted above. Your commentaries have certainly raised many thought provoking issues. I will try to address the core of each of your posts beginning first with Tony followed by Chris and then Kevin.

    Tony:

    In your post, you ask whether or not it would be possible—in an “us vs. them” type conflict scenario—for us to alter our own narrative in such a way that it influences our enemies to forgo seeking vengeance upon us. I admit that I have not had the time to fully consider this option and thus I am hesitant to comment on its potential to be “first step of a first step toward peace” (as you put it). I will say that this idea of altering one’s own narrative as a means of moving away from hatred and toward resolution rings true to my view of the role that a narrative of forgiveness must play (with the slight qualification that I believe that a narrative of forgiveness can only and will only be achieved on the individual—not the societal—level).

    Allow me to explain:

    Imagine that there are two sworn enemies: Person A and Person B. Person A maintains that Person B is responsible for all of his woes. Thus Person A’s narrative resembles the “us vs. them” situation noted above. Similarly, Person B maintains that Person A is responsible for all of his woes. Thus Person B’s narrative also resembles the “us vs. them” narrative. One day (perhaps after reading an insightful post on the exchanging narratives blog?), Person A begins to examine the wrongs that he has committed in his own life—be it against Person B or Person C or whomever—and he identifies his own misdeeds with the misdeeds that Person B has committed against him. Recognizing that he and Person B share a common need for forgiveness, Person A is now able to see Person B in a new light. This does not mean that he has forgotten the past or that he is ok with Person B’s misdeeds. It simply means that instead of looking at Person B and seeing an enemy, he now looks at Person B and sees himself (ie he see a human being rather than the dehumanized object of his hatred, anger and lust for revenge).

    (Note: up until this point I have only reiterated views expressed in previous blogs).

    So, to demonstrate (by means of a roundabout route) how we can “change our narrative… in such a way that it becomes easier for our enemies to turn away from vengeance”: now that Person A has altered his own narrative from the “us vs. them” narrative to a narrative of forgiveness, he no longer treats Person B as an enemy (perhaps he ignores him entirely or simply ceases to concern himself with Person B’s affairs. Remember, this is not perfect forgiveness but human forgiveness. Person A does not have to love Person B; he simply must recognize their shared need to be forgiven). Once Person A has morphed his own narrative into a narrative of forgiveness (ie recognition of his own flaws), Person B will almost undoubtedly change his narrative as well. In my view, part—if not most—of each individuals’ hatred for the other stems from his realization that he is also hated by the other. Thus if Person A stops hating Person B, then Person B will (hopefully) recognize this change in the narrative of Person A and feel called to alter his own narrative. Or at very least, it may keep him from vigorously pursuing his vengeance.

    Chris:

    In my view, the type of forgiveness requested by Downey Jr. on behalf of Gibson (ie “we need to forgive him because we need to be forgiven”) is the only true forgiveness that man can offer. Because it is true (ie universal) it is accessible to all peoples. Thus, even if one denies the existence of an ultimate truth (which many of the Hollywood elite undoubtedly do), he would nevertheless be able to employ the true sense of forgiveness (though, perhaps, unconsciously). It is like denying the existence of air. If tomorrow some mad actor decides that air is nothing more than an antiquated superstition, he won’t suddenly lose the ability to breathe.

    Kevin:

    Your post raised many interesting questions. For the time being, I will concern myself with one. My main issue with your emphasis on “actions over attitudes” is that I believe it has the potential (and perhaps the inevitability) to lead to further conflict. Bold actions that are not first rooted in the higher intention of forgiveness (ie the recognition of one’s own need to be forgiven) will always fail because they do not have as humanizing an effect as does a narrative of forgiveness. Bold actions do not force me to recognize myself in the other. They do not force me to recognize the other as human. Rather, they cause me to recognize my distance from the other. Either I am less human than the other: “I am making this gesture because I have wronged you and am thus unworthy of your goodness.” Or I am more human than the other: “I am making this gesture because I am so good that I am capable of offering kindness even when it is not utterly necessary.” In both cases, the gestures may be good but the intentions are certainly not (or, at least, they are not as good as true human forgiveness).

    So long as I do not see myself in the other, conflicts are bound to arise.

  9. hayyim (kevin) permalink
    October 28, 2011 4:30 am

    matthew –

    i think that the either/or you construct is not necessary. Reconciliatory actions are not only either arrogant or servile. One sees one’s self in the other in many ways, not just (or, in my opinion, primarily) verbally. when levinas speaks of the revelation of the face of the other he does so in terms of hunger, suffering, etc. One does not respond to the hungry man by talking to him but by feeding him. it would be inhumane to do otherwise. abstracting somewhat, i would say that meaningful recognition of the other is only on the plane of praxis. one does for the other and in this way shows his recognition of the other. I enact the relation that ought to be, not just talk about it.

  10. -timo- permalink
    October 28, 2011 1:58 pm

    Hi, yesterday I left a (lengthy) reply to Matthew’s posting (October 21, 2011 12:40 am) but cannot see it here. Technical issues?

    • -timo- permalink
      October 28, 2011 3:51 pm

      And now its here so all well and good! This is like Freud’s Fort/Da -game!

  11. Matthew Clemente permalink
    October 29, 2011 5:09 am

    On Forgiveness and Narrative (Part IV)

    Kevin:

    I do not mean to say that all actions must be either arrogant or servile. I mean to say that all actions that are not first rooted in self-identification with the other—call them “actions in the void”—will inevitably tend toward one of the two. Here we speak of forgiveness. Thus I advocate for a narrative of forgiveness as a means by which one FIRST sees the other as human and SECOND acts accordingly. Actions are indeed important. Perhaps in an effort to emphasis the fact that I was using the term “forgiveness” in a sense separate from its common usage, I down played the role that positive actions can play when they are preceded by forgiveness. But the forgiveness—the recognition that the other is also human—must exist prior to the action itself.

    An action in the void is hollow and empty. It is not and cannot be humanizing because it is not based on an attitude of humanization (for lack of a better term). Before the actor sees the other as human, he has already approached him as an object: when actions come first, the other is the object of the actor’s action. Thus the actor’s view tends either toward a form of self-righteousness (ie “the object of my action is unworthy of me”) or a form of undue worship (ie “I am unworthy of the object of my action”). This, unfortunately, is how man tends to treat objects—either as utterly disposable or utterly irreplaceable. Because the other is an object first, he will not be made human second. But if one approaches the other as human first, then he will act accordingly and continue to treat the other with respect and dignity.

    Furthermore, I am somewhat skeptical that one can act without first formulating an attitude toward the situation. You say, “One does not respond to the hungry man by talking to him but by feeding him. It would be inhumane to do otherwise.” I agree. But implicit in the act of feeding the other is the attitude that preceded that act. The thought that says, “This man is hungry. I too have been hungry and know the pains of hunger. He is like me. He is human. I will feed him,” has a clear humanizing effect (in this case it is sympathy—pity?—not forgiveness that reveals the other’s shared humanity). The thought that says, “If I feed this man, he will owe me a favor. I will feed him,” has a clear dehumanizing effect (and of course, this is just one example–an “act of kindness” can be driven by a number of dehumanizing motives). In both cases, though, the act of feeding the other is preceded by an attitude—be it helpful or harmful. I struggle to imagine an instance in which one can engage a hungry man without first formulating some attitude toward him. No, an attitude must exist prior to any action (I can’t help but to think that Husserl’s views on consciousness and intentionality tie in somehow).

    Either way, in both stated instances, the actions are the same. In both cases, the hungry man is fed. But the attitudes are different. And because the attitudes are different, the eventual outcome of the act of feeding will differ substantially. One is more likely to produce a fruitful and lasting relationship—it is preceded by a humanizing principle and thus it recognizes the dignity of all persons involved. One is more likely to devolve into something ugly and undesirable—it is rooted in the dehumanization of one by the other and thus cannot help but to end in turmoil.

    Actions that are not founded upon an attitude of humanization may act as a Band-Aid in the short term. But until we recognize ourselves in the other—ie “his flaws are my flaws, his humanity is my humanity”—we will not stop the bleeding.

  12. hayyim (kevin) permalink
    October 31, 2011 2:44 pm

    I hear what you are saying and there is surely wisdom in it, attitudes are not unimportant. However, I still disagree with you as to their role vis-a-vis activity. What we really disagree on is the origin of attitudes and actions. You believe – as I understand it – that actions are derivative of attitudes. Therefore, an action will always reflect a prior attitude that is either proper or improper (in degrees). As such, it is essential to ethical activity that I ensure a proper attitude prior to acting and I do this by articulating my good intentions as manifest in my recognition of our common humanity.

    But where do attitudes really come from? You mention Husserl. his theory of empathy runs (in short): I can empathize with others by inferring from my interactions with them, which I perceive, that their behavior is similar to mine insofar as my behavior reflects having been arranged by a guiding ego – therefore, the other must also have an ego – therefore, the other is a human and must be regarded empathically. From this we see that my ability to recognize the humanity of the other is perceptually derivative of my having engaged in a praxis that involved the other. Empathy, and by extension, ethics, is an inferential product of praxis. Thus, actions precede and condition attitudes.

    we create our attitudes by acting.

    attitudes are immanent in acts, not prior to them

    we learn to trust people when we can trust the consistency of their goodwill as manifest in their behavior toward us. the only means by which we could ever know what words indicating goodwill as expressed in apologies etc. mean experientially (whereby I could respond appropriately) it would be by reference to prior actions and experiences.

  13. hayyim (kevin) permalink
    November 2, 2011 4:04 am

    as per dr. kearney’s request i am posting after my presentation tonight. i dont have the text on this computer, so this is more of a placeholder and i can post a fuller write-up on friday. basically:

    1. the substance of what i have been arguing in the postings above
    2. that haidu’s (negative) account of levinas is contradictory
    3. the question of silence/speach must take into consideration those doing it- i.e. perpetrators are to remember, survivors are to survive – this may mean the adoption of mini-narratives. this does not really raise the problem of relativism regarding revisionists b/c their whole danger is that they are NOT relativists but are making actual truth claims.
    4. beyond that, grand narratives, even ethical ones, are part of what produced the holocaust and, therefore, simply replacing them is insufficient. they must ultimately be rejected.
    5. the face of the other is ultimately unconditional and to make distinctions, to interpret from an attitudinal standpoint rather than from a concrete behavioral standpoint, is to return again to the moral thinking that a himmler can manipulate.

  14. Tony Anderson permalink
    November 6, 2011 8:51 pm

    Matthew C:

    The kind of forgiveness you describe (via recognizing a common need to be forgiven) definitely makes sense as a solution to conflicts between people who belong to the same community, who make the same relevant value judgments, and who agree about what has and has not happened in the past. When, for example, someone has committed a crime, we expect the criminal to recognize that he or she has done something wrong. If we then decide to forgive rather than to punish, we are basically calling on the criminal to return to the fold, to renounce his or her former transgression.

    But to someone who does not share the relevant values and opinions, forgiveness seems like a form of proselytizing; one must buy forgiveness at the cost of accepting the forgiver’s interpretation. For this reason I doubt whether the pursuit of forgiveness you describe is the right way to approach inter-community diplomacy. If two parties don’t have the relevant shared values – or can’t even agree about what has and has not been done – then offers of forgiveness might actually be a new source of offense. Imagine how people feel when they are “forgiven” for something they don’t believe they were wrong to do.

    For example, what if a slave who, after years of being abused by his master, just once strikes his master in return? Imagine that the master is outraged and is about to kill the slave. But then, as a Christian, he realizes that we all need forgiveness… and so he forgives the slave. Is there not something bitter in this kind of forgiveness? How can the slave respond? It seems as though he must either 1) reject the offer of forgiveness, on the grounds that it is ridiculous (perhaps keeping this to himself), or 2) accept forgiveness and also implicitly accept the master’s point of view; i.e. accept that the master’s violence is normal and just.

    We could think of political/ideological communities (or individual people) as cells with selectively permeable membranes. Words and actions can only cross the border if they can be assimilated morally, theoretically, and historically. I have argued above that the attitude of forgiveness you describe can easily fail to pass through the membrane. Is there an alternative? You say, in response to Hayyim, that “an action in the void is hollow and empty.” But maybe this very emptiness, this minimum of interpretation, increases the likelihood that such actions can pass through successfully? Maybe it is actually a diplomatic strength? (Matthew D has recently discussed something like this over on the main thread in the context of sharing food.)

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